3 Mar 2022

Mental health should be priority as cases surge among students - psychologist

6:23 pm on 3 March 2022

University students feeling anxious and uncertain about the Covid-19 outbreak should try not to become totally preoccupied by the pandemic, a psychologist says.

Generic Library / Students

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Students living in halls of residence say almost everyone they know has the virus and those who have not caught it believe it is only a matter of time before they are infected too.

Orientation week is usually a riot of parties and socialising, but students on campus - some of whom are living away from home for the first time - are now holed up in their rooms.

University of Auckland psychology professor Kerry Gibson told Nine to Noon the Omicron outbreak is a great source of uncertainty and anxiety for students already grappling with big changes in life.

"University in any case brings its own challenges for young people and their mental health. This is a bit of a double-whammy," she said.

Professor Gibson said students should acknowledge it is a difficult situation and make sure they connect with whānau and friends.

"You don't want to get completely preoccupied with it," she said.

"The most useful thing we can do is say to ourselves, look, this is an unusually difficult situation, I'm perfectly entitled to feel a little at sea here and find things a bit difficult and I need to give myself some time to settle in.

"This is one chapter of the book, it's not the whole book, it's a period of time in which things are challenging."

Professor Gibson said parents should have empathy for their children, who often face enormous pressure to succeed.

About 60 percent of Aotearoa's active cases have been recorded in people under the age of 30.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has called the start of the university year a "nationwide super-spreader event".

Victoria University of Wellington case numbers are fluctuating between about 600 and 850 among the 2500 students in its halls.

Extra staff have joined their accommodation team to provide meals and welfare checks to students who are isolating in their rooms.

AUT says 209 of its 712 resident students are isolating with the virus or because they're contacts.

Auckland University has approximately 450 infected residents.

Otago, Canterbury, and Massey universities have not provided RNZ with the number of cases in their halls of residence.

Most students are attending virtual lectures, although some universities are providing a mixture of online and in-person learning.

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